Thursday, May 14, 2020

Feel Free: Essays (2018) by Zadie Smith. COVID-19 Recreational Reading

Feel Free: Essays (2018) by Zadie Smith

Over the weekend, I finished, Feel Free: Essays (2018) by Zadie Smith. A lot of you may know Smith for her breakthrough 2000 novel, White Teeth. Feel Free is her second collection of essays, following on Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (2009). This collection was primarily written between 2010 and 2018 and covers a wide variety of topics including cinema and book reviews, forwards to new editions, and general ruminations on growing up in London. I found her discussion of the battle to keep the local public library open in the gentrifying Willesden neighborhood where she grew up, particularly interesting. Long quote from the essay:
"What kind of a problem is a library? It’s clear that for many people it is not a problem at all, only a kind of obsolescence. At the extreme pole of this view is the technocrat’s total faith: with every book in the world online, what need could there be for the physical reality? This kind of argument thinks of the library as a function rather than a plurality of individual spaces. But each library is a different kind of problem and “the Internet” is no more a solution for all of them than it is their universal death knell ... All libraries have a different character and setting. Some are primarily for children or primarily for students or the general public, primarily full of books or microfilms or digitized material or with a café in the basement or a market out front. Libraries are not failing “because they are libraries.” Neglected libraries get neglected, and this cycle, in time, provides the excuse to close them. Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay ... It would seem the most obvious thing in the world to say that the reason why the market is not an efficient solution to libraries is because the market has no use for a library. But it seems we need, right now, to keep restating the obvious." (Northwest London Blues)

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